Dear Diary, It’s Me, Jessica: Part 7

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Dear Diary,

It’s me, Jessica.

It is official.

We are out of toilet paper.

Despite rationing starting about a month after the power went out, we could only make it go so far.  

Mom stood with the last empty cardboard roll held on her index finger.  Dad and I stopped eating our breakfast as the news sunk in.  The kitchen was suddenly very quiet.  Dad broke the silence,  suggesting we hold a service for the roll, he would give eulogy.  I rolled my eyes. Mom said something about Dad jokes and threw the roll at him.

We were fortunate to have gone this long as some of the neighbors ran out months ago.  We have heard what they were doing in the meantime.  Seems the best method was to use some kind of squirt bottle to rinse the dirty area well and then use a clean cloth to finish cleaning and dry.  Then wash the cloths well with anything from bleach for those who still had some, to homemade soap made from lye.  More than a few said it actually felt better and cleaner than the toilet paper only.

Back when Jack and his team took out that gang, freeing Rae and the others, Rae, Kathy, Joanne, and Allison moved into the house a few doors down.  Rae mentioned to Dad that the plumbing looked odd in the bathroom.  Dad went over to see if there was an issue.  After a moment, he said, 

“Oh, it’s a bidet.”  

Rae, Kathy, Joan,, and Allison just looked at him questioningly. When he explained, they seemed to understand but were also skeptical. It worked only off of the water pressure, not power. Dad thought he could get it to work.  

After a few days of rummaging through their garage, ours and asking around for some other parts and borrowed a manual hand ‘drill,’ Dad was ready to try it.  I helped him carry some of the parts and hand tools to Rae’s.

Rae tried to tell Dad it was not necessary but Rae did not know Dad that well at the time.  When Dad got an idea in his head, he was like a dog with a bone and would not let go till the job was done.

Dad disconnected the water line from the regular house plumbing and connected the bidet’s water line to a canister he had drilled a hole in side near the bottom.  He filled the canister half way up with a gallon of water and screwed on the lid.  There was another connection on top of the lid he then connected another water line to and then connected that to a air hand pump he made.  Lid up, seat down, he gave the air pump a few strokes, then lifted the lever on the side of the bidet.  The toilet bowl made a few gurgling noises.  Another few pumps and he tried again.  This time a stream of water shot out of the toilet bowl and right into my chest.  

Diary, okay, it was my own fault standing there in the line of fire, but I did not know I was.  I still yelled, “Daddy!”

He muttered,

“Might need some tweaking,” eyeing the system he created, seemingly oblivious to me, as Joan handed me a towel.

An hour later, he was confident it was working as designed and asked for a volunteer.  

No one spoke up.

Rae then said, “Fine, you scaredy cats!  I will try it.  Now, out!  All of you.”

The rest of us stood outside the bathroom in the hallway.  After a few minutes we heard,

“Whoa!  Chicken and biscuits!” 

And then Rae let out one of her deep, rich, Southern laughs. 

Diary, all was good.  

Dad was then determined to find one for our own home no matter what Mom said, as she had a few squirt bottles and cloths already.  

Dad and his bone.

Entry two

The same day Dad was pondering his ‘eulogy’ for the last toilet paper roll, we went to the Miller’s to continue work on the windmill.  

I politely asked Janet and Justin to tell us of their journey to the Miller’s. I was so glad when the story continued.

In the barn, as they heard from a short distance the sounds of their home on fire, parts falling into the basement, Justin began to formulate a plan as he looked at the maps on the GPS device.  

What would have been about a seven-hour dive to the Miller’s before the power went out was five days by horseback, by the most direct route of a four-lane highway, with a lot of open spaces with little or no cover if they needed it.  Neither Janet nor Justin liked that idea.  They thought for a bit, discussing different strategies, when with the GPS maps, Justin found a very roundabout, back roads route that would take ten or eleven days.  It was far from ideal to be on the road that long, but seemed safer than the open highway.

By then, it was growing late and past their normal dinner time, as the sun had dropped below the horizon. Janet told Justin to get the propane camp stove going, and she would pick out dinner and the cookware, camp bowls, and camp utensils to go with it. She picked out three cans of Italian Wedding Soup with a loaf of bead she had made two days ago. They would make for a hearty meal.

They were all exhausted, but Janet and Justin let David and Charlotte make their beds in sleeping bags. They fell asleep almost as soon as their heads hit their rolled-up sweater-filled pillows.

Justin took the first watch as his mind was still going a hundred miles an hour, thinking about the upcoming journey. He would wake Janet around three a.m. to take her watch. The kids should not be bothered.  

It took them the better part of the next day to determine what was absolutely necessary to take with them, then pack and re-pack the saddlebags and the packs to get it all in.  Then they saddled up the horses, the saddlebags, packs, and other means to lash gear to the horses.  Janet noted they would likely have to repack a few miles down the road as the packs would shift.  Justin looked around on the floor of the things they were going to have to leave behind.  It could not be helped.  He did not want to overload the horses and run the possibility of one of them going lame if it could be helped.  They did pack some feed for the horses but would have to rely on mostly forage.  Allowing them to feed would take up time.  

They left at first light the next day after a breakfast of bread, hot grits, and granola.

As she noted, Janet was correct about having to re-pack some of the gear and cargo not far down the road.  Thankfully, it was only a few packs and done.  

With his rifle across the saddle in front of him, Justin set them at a quick walk to eat up the miles.  The territory was familiar to them but seemed strange at the same time.  There was no one around.  They past homes that appeared to be empty.  Through a few small towns eerily quiet.  They had to stop at one point as a herd of cows were calmly crossing the road.  There was no one around driving them.  

It was late afternoon. Justin was checking the map when he said they would stop for the night.  He nodded in one direction, there should be a creek off the road a ways, in the woods where they would set up camp.  

They found the creek, dismounted, unsaddled, and unpacked the horses.  While Janet and Charlotte unpacked the camping gear, Justin and David set a picket line for the horses and strapped feed bags of oats onto them.  Janet packed the camp stove, camping cookware, and utensils in a lidded 5-gallon bucket and some of the food in another.  She handed the buckets to Justin and David so they could get water for the horses first.  It took several trips to the creek and back as the horses took down a lot of water.  Justin would be on the lookout for more buckets if they could find them.  If they happened onto a source of water on their way, they would take the opportunity to water the horses when possible.  

While Janet and Charlotte were setting up the big family sized tent, when Janet noticed how quiet Charlotte was.  She then realized David was more subdued than usual.  Janet almost said something to Charlotte when she thought better of it and would talk to Justin later.  They rolled out the self-inflating air mats and, on top of them, their sleeping bags.  

Janet asked Justin to build a fire, which she could use the one Dutch oven to cook over.  He was about to say ‘no’ when she firmly asked again.  Sensing there was more to it than just a cooking fire, he asked the kids to help him gather up firewood.  

Janet opted for something different for dinner, as they had soup the previous two nights.  Potato casserole, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, some dried herbs, and venison summer sausage Justin made.  

While the casserole was cooking, Janet gently brought up what had happened over the past few days.  She then asked what the kids thought of it.  They started slowly.  Then, like a dam breaking, it all came out.  How they felt about having to shoot people.  They understood they had to.  If they did not, those people would have hurt them or worse.  The loss of their home.  Having to leave.  Charlotte was openly crying.  David had tears streaming down his face and stared into the fire as he talked about what he felt.  It was then Justin called them all together and they, as a family, hugged.  Things seemed better, but they would watch the kids closely for the rest of the time they were on the road.

They fell into a pattern.  Up at first light, breakfast, broke camp, saddled and packed out the horses and then on the road.  Lunch was in the saddle.  They watered when they found it, if not as they rode, then they camped out near a water source.  If they could, they would just lead the horses to the water.  When they could not, Justin and David hauled the water.  They tried to make dinner a hot meal.  Everyone took a night watch shift.  By the fourth day, they were operating like clock work without a word being said, they all turned to what needed to be done efficiently.  

On the seventh day, they came across a small town that seemed to have people present. It was a clear day, even warm in the sun. The road led them into what appeared to be the town square. There was a small, white church with a tall blacked-shingled steeple and bell tower. There were several bicycle racks out front in the parking lot, each nearly full. Several horses were tied up to wooden hitches on the side of the church.

An old man with a hat, sat in a rocking chair, lever action rifle on his lap, off to the side of the the church’s doors on the landing.  As he watched them approach, he continued to rock in the chair but did not lift the rifle.  As they pulled up and stopped, he greeted them with a smile.  They could hear singing coming from inside the church.  The old man said his name was Bobby and he was standing watch over the ‘cycles’ and horses while services were going on.  He offered them to join the congregation.  Janet said they were pressed to get to her brother’s place.  Bobby nodded, “The only thing more important than community is family.” 

Justin asked Bobby how things were down the road they were on.  Bobby they would be safe to the county line.  When Justin asked where that was, Bobby just said they would know.  Not feeling confident about Bobby’s response, Justin gave thanks and said they needed to be going.  Bobby wished them well as he rocked.  

They smelled it before they reached it.  Justin told Janet and the kids not to stop and to keep going while he checked it out.  It was not far off the road.  Crows, turkey vultures took off in flight as he got to the edge of what looked like a small depression in the field.  His horse did not like the smell and let Justin know it snorting, ears back and prancing, eager to be off.  It was hard to tell, but it looked like bodies in various stages of decomposition.  Not just human either.  He recognized a deer head, a cow’s head and something that could have been goat or a sheep.  Justin let his horse take the lead and galloped away from the mass grave.  This was the county line, he guessed.  

When Justin caught up to Janet and the kids, he then put them into a fast trot.  There was a lake he wanted to reach for that night’s camp.  The far side of the lake had a state park with a campground and two boat launches.  It looked good, but being on the far side, would add another hour at least to reach.  Looking at the map, he thought there would be an area they could set up camp and a good-sized pasture for the horses to graze in not far from the road.

They found what they thought would make for a good camp.  They could lead the horses down to the edge of the lake to water themselves.  Then Justin and David set a picket line for the horses to graze in the pasture.  Janet and Charlotte just finished setting up the tent, laying out the sleeping bags and got everything they needed for dinner, when they heard the first sounds of thunder in the distance.  Dark clouds on the horizon, suddenly the wind changed direction and the temperature dropped.  Now they could actually smell rain on the wind.  They hurried to get the horse coats out and on the horses to keep them warm and dry before the rain started.  Then they pulled the rest of their gear into a pile, wrapped the whole thing with a tarp and secured with length of rope.  The tent had a extended awning like on the front door that allowed them to still use their camp stove to cook without setting the tent on fire.  As the first big drops of rain began to pelt the tent, Janet realized they had not gotten water for themselves for dinner, and washing up.  Janet informed the rest of the need of water for dinner, then said,

“One . . . two . . . three . . . NOT IT!”

Both the kid said, “NOT IT!” at the same time and Justin meekly said, “Not it,” last.  

The kids and Janet laughed as Justin gave out a loud sigh, set his leather cowboy hat lower on his head, took the ‘dirty’ water filter bag and prepared to brave the cold rain to get water from the lake.  He gave Janet a wink and a smile as he sat out the tent’s front door, under the awning, putting on his boots.

When he returned, he hung the dirty water filter bag from the tent’s ceiling loop and connected it to the filter connected the clean bag sitting on the floor of the tent.  Next to the dirty bag was a rechargeable LED lantern, illuminating the whole tent in a soft white light.

Once filtered, Janet took some water, a good chunk of cured and smoked venison jerky and let it come up to a simmer.  She then turned it off and let the jerky steep in the water.  When it was cool enough to handle, she shredded the jerky and set it aside.  She then mixed the jerky infused water with a pre-made biscuit mix.  While the biscuits finished cooking off heat, Janet mixed the jerky into canned French onion soup and let it simmer.  Justin and the kids played cards as she cooked.  

After dinner, Justin braved the rain again to check on the horses.  They were warm and dry under their coats but Justin moved them into the same stand of trees where the tent was, to help shelter them from the rain and wind.  The interval between lighting flash and thunder report was growing closer as the bulk of the storm got closer.  Justin just got back into the tent when the steady rain became a down pour that they had to raise their voices to be heard.  Justin decided not to keep a watch, as everything with two legs or more would be seeking shelter in the storm.

The rain continued the next day.  Neither Janet nor Justin liked losing another day staying in place but they liked the idea of spending a day in the saddle, cold and wet even less.  Janet added the kids, the horses and even themselves needed a rest.  The kids’ attitudes and morale seemed much improved, playing cards in their sleeping bags, laughing and chatting.  The rain continued, ranging from a light, steady rain to a downpour.  Justin and David did move the horses three times in the pasture during the day for them to graze.  In the middle of the night, Janet got up to pee.  The rain had finally stopped, and she could see stars in between the tree branches above.  They would be back on the road tomorrow, thankfully.  

About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.

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  • Writing about running out of toilet paper was a very effective way of showing readers how one of the last few reminders of the “Old World” disappeared. Incidentally, if anyone is interested, there was a TV series called, Two of the main characters were active-duty U.S. Marine NCOs when the power went out. Keep up the great work.

    • I vaguely recall that series. I think I saw the first episode. I cut cable in 08′.
      Thank you!

      • You’re welcome and the Revolution TV series ran on NBC from 2012 to 2014. The series is available on DVD and online streaming services.

  • Good embellishment of the story. Jessica’s first person recounting of events balances nicely with Janet and Justin’s third person account. I like the addition of “make do” items in combination with their neo-survivalist situation to show the past is still with them in the present.

  • I am loving reading this but I just want to point out one thing, for those of you that don’t know what horse ‘coats’ are. A horse blanket is a big bulky piece of equipment that can (depending on the amount of insulation) be quite heavy, especially if they had draft horse blankets, which is unlikely. They would also take up a ton of room. Unless I was using it in place of a sleeping bag, I would not take my horses’ blankets. Horses do just fine in nasty weather. I only blanket mine during the worst of our winter which is 24/7 rain at 40 degrees and only to prevent rain scald which is pretty common around here. Honestly, a small tarp would make a more reasonable cover for really horrendous rain and would fold flat and be nearly weightless for the rest of the time. And that being said, I just gave myself an idea of laying a tarp under my horse blankets, tracing and cutting around them and installing grommets to make a makeshift emergency blanket that could be easily brought along!

    • Sita, a very good point! as long as they stay dry they will do fine. the wild horse and burro population in Nevada is very large and growing stronger despite the harsh weather there, they have actually become a problem in some areas. lots of snow and wet in the winters. some are lost every year but mostly because of loss of food/ browse, and predators.

    • Ah! My daughter has been riding, competing hunter jumper class since she was eight years old.
      I was basing the horse coat thing off what I saw when I visited my daughter this past December. She now owns her own horse and that is what the horse was wearing.
      But thank you for your input! I find that very helpful!

  • Funny and interesting. Only thing I’d like is a reminder about why they’re going to the Miller’s house.

    • After the day the power went out, Jack informed told them the Miller’s needed farm hands for manual labor. Mr. Miller, not knowing when or if the power would return, is rationing his remaining fuel for things that require the use of the tractor, chainsaws, etc.
      Mr. Miller pays Jessica and her father for their labor with things like eggs, milk, ham, beef and feeds them lunch.

    • If you meant why are are Justin and Janet going to the Miller’s, it’s because they’re relatives and had been burned out of their own home. There’s safety in numbers, too.

    • Actually our first bidet was the one featured in this entry of Dear Diary.
      We upgraded to a electric powered one a year or so ago. Yeah, gotta admit, the warmed toilet seat and hot water is a luxury in the winter!

  • This part of their story touched me. We lost our off grid cabin to a fire in 2006. Waiting for the next chapter and hoping that they don’t have too many problems on the way. Thanks for the great writing.

  • So glad you went there! Lots of folks will wonder what to do. During Covid, there were idiots trying to flush rags, and made a mess of the plumbing! I have long wanted to create a washing machine out of a barrel and a bike. It would have to have an inner basket that spins with fins, and and outer one to retain the water and soap. Maybe Jessica’s father can create one…

  • @1stMarineJarHead

    Since you apparently went “there” maybe you could have Jessica dealing with periods and with sex. Maybe her mom or Rae could have “the talk” with her.

    Jessica could say” Mom and Rae sat me down to talk about an inevitable part of growing up, and about a part that is not always inevitable. They told me to know now what I plan to do then” or words to that effect.

    Or maybe not….fiction does not always have to have all real-life details.

  • I’d read the first couple of chapters, then decided to hoard the remaining ones so I wouldn’t have to wait a whole week to find out what happened next, and just read them all at the same time. Alas, temptation won out and now I’m waiting for Chapters 8+.

    Well done!
    P.S. Would you include a few more details of the Make-Do variety? Those are my favorite parts.

    • Glad you like it!
      The tentative plan at some point in the future is to make the whole thing into a book.
      I think it would be really cool to print a physical one in a actual composition book, and in neat cursive writing like it was Jessica’s actual diary, but likely that would be too expensive to produce.

      I try to add little things here and there about “Making-Do,” but I also do not want to sound like I am lecturing to you, the dear reader. I also like to leave some parts up to the reader to decide for themselves or contemplate, “How would I do that if I were in that situation?”

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